Tuesday, September 2, 2008

ECU-VT gives Raycom reason to believe

When the divided crowd at Bank of America Stadium cheered heartily just for the public service announcements for Virginia Tech and East Carolina on Saturday, Ken Haines knew he'd put together a winner.

Haines, the president and CEO of Raycom Sports, convinced the schools to play in Charlotte for what became one of the most memorable games of the opening week of college football. The crowd was announced at 72,169, and the blocked punt East Carolina used to score the winning touchdown in a 27-22 victory was one of the most replayed clips on the highlight shows.

Inside the stadium, two fan bases excited about football made it a hit.

"It had a bowl-like atmosphere," Haines said.

It left Haines wanting more college football in Charlotte. The city already has the Meineke Car Care Bowl each year plus the ACC Championship Game coming in 2010 and 2011. Haines also has East Carolina vs. South Carolina contracted for Charlotte in 2011 and 2014.

But he would like to put one regular season game each year in Charlotte. He would love to get North Carolina to play South Carolina at Bank of America Stadium, and would be happy to have Virginia Tech, N.C. State and Clemson, too.

Problem is, those schools all have been asking their fans for huge donations for facilities upgrades at their home stadiums. That makes them reluctant to take big games elsewhere.

"Charlotte's tried to get us to play somebody in Charlotte for a while, but we really try to protect our suite holders," said N.C. State athletics director Lee Fowler. "It’s really tougher and tougher for athletic directors to take a neutral site like that."

But Haines said he will keep trying after Virginia Tech and East Carolina gave him a great ending to an otherwise frustrating August. Charlotte-based Raycom had hoped to retain the SEC TV syndication rights it holds until the end of this season but was outbid by CBS and ESPN for fees Haines called "staggering."

Raycom still holds the ACC's broadcast rights and may try to secure the rights of non-BCS conferences in the future. In the meantime, Haines believes Virginia Tech and East Carolina helped his pitch for regular-season college football games in Charlotte.

"This was truly successful," Haines said. "This will look good on the resume."

– Ken Tysiac